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U.S. lawmaker defends drone killing of Pakistani Taliban leader

Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) arrives for meeting with European Parliament leader
Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) arrives for meeting with European Parliament leader

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. lawmaker whose committee oversees the intelligence community on Sunday defended the drone strike that killed a Pakistani Taliban leader and said it would help keep American troops safe.

Representative Mike Rogers, who chairs the House of Representatives' permanent intelligence committee, said the slain militant, Hakimullah Mehsud, was a "bad guy" who was connected to attacks against Pakistani soldiers and to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which has forced closures of many schools for girls.

"This was a bad guy," Rogers said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "There's some information recently that concerned us about the safety of our troops. I feel a little better for our troops today than I did before this event happened."

Mehsud, who took over as the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban in 2009, was killed on Friday, along with three others, in a U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan.

The Pakistani government denounced the killing as an attempt by the United States to interfere with peace talks between Pakistan's government and the Taliban.

Pakistani officials said they would review ties with Washington and some politicians there called for blocking critical U.S. military supply lines into Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban has beheaded Pakistani soldiers and orchestrated suicide bombings that have killed thousands of civilians. Rogers also said Mehsud had ties to a failed attempt to bomb New York's Times Square in 2010.

He said U.S. intelligence agencies, including the embattled National Security Agency, collect and contribute the kinds of information that make such strikes possible.

"We deal with these threats every single day, and they are big, they are real and they affect real people," Rogers said.

"And I'll tell you, we should protect our soldiers in the field and we should also protect their families who are here back in the United States. And we should use every means that is legal, protects civil liberties and gets the job done."

He and Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate intelligence committee, defended the NSA, which has come under heavy criticism for weeks for reportedly listening into the phone conversations of U.S. allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

U.S. officials have maintained that President Barack Obama was unaware that Merkel and other leaders were being monitored.

The White House has halted some of the surveillance programs, such as those focused on the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters.

Rogers said the intelligence agencies are the "good guys," and that some U.S. and foreign officials likely knew more about the spying than they let on.

"I think there are going to be some 'best actor' awards coming out of the White House this year and some 'best supporting actor' awards coming out of Europe," he said.

Feinstein, who also appeared on "Face the Nation" on Sunday, said the uproar over the spying was more of a political issue than a liability for the intelligence agency.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson. Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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